Remember at the height of the recession in 2008 how you’d read all those stories in newspapers about well-to-do professional couples living in affluent neighborhoods – only to have both earners simultaneously lose their jobs and find themselves foreclosing on their homes and using food stamps?
That’s us. Now.
Well, not exactly. We were hardly the so-called 1% to begin with, and we’re not on food stamps now. But we graduated from top institutions and had two comfortable and predictable incomes for the 10 years we’d been in the workforce. Until my husband’s company got bought out and nearly all positions were eliminated, and 6 months later, my department was eliminated as well when my company found itself struggling.
Being poor with two young children is scary. Suddenly finding yourself with no health insurance is even scarier. Childcare for two children is expensive, and we have no family locally to shoulder the burden.
If you’ve never been unemployed with family depending on you, it’s difficult to do justice to the level of anxiety involved. Not a day goes by where I don’t look at the mortgage versus the dollars coming in and think, “How the hell are we going to do this?”
But we have to do it.
So we work harder than we’ve ever worked (my biggest unemployment surprise, by the way), cobbling together the income we can between freelance work, part-time work, and the “hey, can you mow my lawn today” sort of work.
We save like nobody’s business, scrutinizing every purchase, and spending almost exclusively on necessities like food, electricity, and gas.
We cancelled cable. We don’t buy new shoes. Our kids wear hand-me-downs.
Our dishwasher is broken. Our microwave is broken. Our upstairs toilet needs a new tank.
But when my husband and I lost our jobs, we deliberately increased our health and fitness budgets.
We’ve come to the realization that during extremely stressful times, taking care of our bodies is of utmost importance.
So we started eating really well, eliminating processed food in favor of produce, whole grains, and lean meat – yes, sometimes from Whole Foods. We want our bodies to feel good so we can cope with the anxiety, set a positive example for our children, feel confident in pursuing job opportunities, and reduce our medical bills.
Then we upgraded our gym memberships, switching to a nicer gym that was right down the street, with the goal of reducing the mental barriers to working out, since we previously couldn’t always summon the motivation to drive a long distance to the gym. We both work out multiple times a week now, because if our bodies feel strong our minds will follow.
Even after both of these steps, I was unfortunately still experiencing anxiety, so I added a relaxation routine to my bedtime – including deep breathing and a (not-cheap) purchase on essential oils that are purported to help with relaxation and mood lift.
I avail myself of an occasional massage session if I’m really feeling the effects of tension.
I recognize that we are lucky. Many people – even those who are employed – don’t have the means to be able to spend on these things. I don’t take this for granted. My husband and I were fortunate enough to be able to save during the decade we worked. We also have the comforting realization that our situation is likely temporary, and we will almost surely return to our previous level of income in time.
All of that said, my message is to make health and wellness a priority to the extent you can, even when money is tight. You may only be able to afford a $10 yoga video done from your living room or not even that. But make it a priority to walk around the block, or listen to relaxing music, or eat a piece of fruit with each meal.
Here’s to our fortitude, during good times and bad.